Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Souls Memorial: Aboriginal Heritage Month

Souls Memorial is found alongside the Blue Water Bridge which links Port Huron Michigan and Sarnia, Ontario on the St. Clair River.

The Souls Memorial has been erected by the Blue Water Bridge Canada as part of a major redevelopment of its waterfront in Point Edward, for the enjoyment of the community. It will stand as a symbol of co-operation and respect between the Blue Water Bridge Canada and the Aamjiwnaang First Nation.

The following was written by Reverend Matthew Stevens, of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, for the special day of the Unveiling of the Souls Memorial, held June 21, 2003.

Aanii, Boozhoo (WELCOME)

The completion and dedication of the Souls Memorial represents a pinnacle in the long history of co-operation between the Aamjiwnaag First Nation and the Blue Water Bridge Canada. Eons before trade flowed back and forth between Canada and United States across a bridge, this site was the hub of an Anishinaabek trade network that stretched over the entire continent. The Souls Memorial stands in tribute to the generations of Ancestors who gathered on this site for trade, for celebration, for teaching, and for sharing in seasonal spiritual ceremonies.

Naturally, as a site of such seminal significance to the Anishinaabek, some of the Ancestors were laid to their final rest in this area. This practice continued routinely for many hundreds of years, leaving untold numbers of Ancestors interred in the surrounding area. Centuries later, the expansive commercial dynamic of contemporary society inevitably resulted in the resting places of the Ancestors being disturbed by construction and redevelopment.

Thus began a relationship between Aamjiwnaang First Nation, Graves Protection & Repatriation Committees, and the Blue Water Bridge Canada, a partnership that has been marked since its inception by mutual respect, learning, fellowship, and genuine cooperation. The spirit of the Ancestors has taught us how to come together in solving challenges that otherwise might have remained irresolvable. It's been valuable learning, as witness in the thousands of artifacts carefully unearthed by Mayer Heritage Consultants of London, Ontario. Further affirmation was provided by the Ontario Archaeological Society jointly presenting the Aamjiwnaag First Nation, Graves Protection & Repatriation Committees, and the Blue Water Bridge Canada, with The Ontario Heritage Award for the year 2001.

The Souls Memorial was designed and executed by Anishinaabe artist Dennis Henry-Shawnoo, and depicts on the central statue a series of faces representing the Ancestors. To quote Mr. Henry-Shawnoo's...”the inspiration for the Souls piece is the past, the present and the future. The piece reflects on the old ones who have gone..We all must find our true history before we come to the present and move forward to the future. The present is only a moment in time.” It rests atop a tall plinth, handcarved by the same artist from a single massive stone, and embodies certain design features that will be utilized in the celebratrion of traditional ceremonies for many years to come.

Dennis Henry-Shawnoo, artist/sculptor and designer of the Souls Memorial.

The memorial is situated within a garden-plaza setting that was conceived and designed by landscape architect Wendy Shearer. Through many hours of consultation and research, Ms. Shearer gradually evolved a concept that incorporated the traditional symbols, shapes, and colours of the Anishinaabek Medicine Wheel. The plants and shrubs that ornament the beds within the area are all selected from the original traditional medicines, thus completing the symbolic effect. Although the overall effect conforms beautifully to the surrounding terrain, it still emphasizes the centrality of the Memorial.

The Souls Memorial has been erected by the Blue Water Bridge Canada as part of a major redevelopment of its waterfront the Point Edward, for the enjoyment of the community. It's already evident that the completed project will provide critical environmental protection to the shoreline, while at the same time it will create a revitalized community space that will be a source of civic pride for many years to come. Indeed, the visibility of the Memorial during the daytime and at night ensures that it will rapidly become a local landmark, guiding twenty-first century travellers to the same site that for hundreds of years beckoned to the Anishinaabek.

Today's ceremonies will seek to honour that proud heritage, and will in part, reach back to tradtitions that originate in time immemorial. The contemporary celebration that our visitors will witness today, actually commenced long before sunrise this morning. The Spiritual Elders and members of the Graves Protection & Repartriation Committees from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation gathered together during the dark hours of this morning, and began preparing the Sacred Fire. Joined by other speically invited Elders, they continued with all of the ceremonies instrumental to appropriately dedicating the Memorial site to a commemoration of the Ancestors. What our guests will observe during the public ceremonies, will in effect be simply the conclusion of the work-begun hours earlier.

As many of our visitors will know, today (June 21st) marks the Summer Solstice, the day each year that delineates our passage of Spring into Summer. The spiritual significance of this day translates into the traditions of virtually every First Nation culture, and celebrated both the teachings of the past and the challenging prospects for the future. In 1996, the Government of Canada moved to grant legal recognition to this day, and then Government General issued a proclamation on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen, which in part reads: WHEREAS the Constitution of Canada recognizes the existing rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada;
WHEREAS in the Constitution of Canada "Aboriginal peoples of Canada" include the Indian, Inuit and Metis peoples of Canada;
WHEREAS the Aboriginal peoples of Canada have made and continued to make valuable contributions to Canadian society and it is considered appropriate that there be, in each year, a day to mark and celebrate these contributions and to recognize the different cultures of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada;
AND WHEREAS many Aboriginal peoples celebrate the summer solstice, which has an important symbolism within their cultures;
THEREFORE, His Excellency the Governor General in Council....hereby directs that a proclamation do issue declaring June 21 of each year as "NATIONAL ABORIGINAL DAY".

Recognizing the growing spirit of co-operation that has began, many Fist Nations have included the word "Solidarity" in the title for this day. We're pleased to welcome all of our guests here for our NATIONAL ABORIGINAL SOLIDARITY DAY festivities.
We're also particularly pleased to have the privilege of welcoming the Honourable James K. Bartleman, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, as our guest of honour. The Honourable James Karl Bartleman is the 27th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and was sworn-in on March 7, 2002. He is the 41st vice-regal representative since John Graves Simcoe's arrival in Upper Canada in 1792. Mr. Bartleman had a distinguished career of more that 35 years in the Canadian Foreign Service, and also served in senior positions in the Department of Foreign Affaires and International Trade. Of special significance to today's ceremonies, the Honourable Mr. Bartleman is the first Anishinaabe to hold the vice-regal position for the Province of Ontario, being a member of the Mnjikaning First Nation, in the Muskoka region of Ontario.

Of course, none of today's festivities could occur if it hadn't been for the determined and cooperative efforts of a great many people. Unfortunately, time simply doesn't permit for the individual recognition of all of people who have been involved over the years of work leading up to this morning. Some were trained professionals, who added to their qualifications the skills of patience, cultural sensitivity, learning, and consensus building. Many others were interested volunteers, who, like their professional colleagues, found their knowledge expanding in all sorts of ways they'd never previously considered. To a very great extent, the Souls Memorial is a testimony to all that can be accomplished when people of disparate backgrounds meet the challenges of contemporary society, in a true spirit of mutual respect and co-operation. We're indebted to them for the exemplary legacy they leave.

Article extracteed from the Blue Water Bridge website. To visit the site, please click here.

Picture of the Blue Water Bridge, extracted from Wikipedia. Please click here.

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